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My Year Abroad
by Chang-Rae Lee




Overview -
INSTANT NATIONAL BESTSELLER

A New York Times Notable Book * Named a Best Book of the Year by Vogue, TIME, and Marie Claire

"A manifesto to happiness--the one found when you stop running from who you are." -New York Times Book Review

"An extraordinary book, acrobatic on the level of the sentence, symphonic across its many movements--and this is a book that moves...My Year Abroad is a wild ride--a caper, a romance, a bildungsroman, and something of a satire of how to get filthy rich in rising Asia." - Vogue

From the award-winning author of Native Speaker and On Such a Full Sea, an exuberant, provocative story about a young American life transformed by an unusual Asian adventure - and about the human capacities for pleasure, pain, and connection.

Tiller is an average American college student with a good heart but minimal aspirations. Pong Lou is a larger-than-life, wildly creative Chinese American entrepreneur who sees something intriguing in Tiller beyond his bored exterior and takes him under his wing. When Pong brings him along on a boisterous trip across Asia, Tiller is catapulted from ordinary young man to talented prot g , and pulled into a series of ever more extreme and eye-opening experiences that transform his view of the world, of Pong, and of himself.

In the breathtaking, "precise, elliptical prose" that Chang-rae Lee is known for (The New York Times), the narrative alternates between Tiller's outlandish, mind-boggling year with Pong and the strange, riveting, emotionally complex domestic life that follows it, as Tiller processes what happened to him abroad and what it means for his future. Rich with commentary on Western attitudes, Eastern stereotypes, capitalism, global trade, mental health, parenthood, mentorship, and more, My Year Abroad is also an exploration of the surprising effects of cultural immersion--on a young American in Asia, on a Chinese man in America, and on an unlikely couple hiding out in the suburbs. Tinged at once with humor and darkness, electric with its accumulating surprises and suspense, My Year Abroad is a novel that only Chang-rae Lee could have written, and one that will be read and discussed for years to come.

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More About My Year Abroad by Chang-Rae Lee

 
 
 

Overview

INSTANT NATIONAL BESTSELLER

A New York Times Notable Book * Named a Best Book of the Year by Vogue, TIME, and Marie Claire

"A manifesto to happiness--the one found when you stop running from who you are." -New York Times Book Review

"An extraordinary book, acrobatic on the level of the sentence, symphonic across its many movements--and this is a book that moves...My Year Abroad is a wild ride--a caper, a romance, a bildungsroman, and something of a satire of how to get filthy rich in rising Asia." - Vogue

From the award-winning author of Native Speaker and On Such a Full Sea, an exuberant, provocative story about a young American life transformed by an unusual Asian adventure - and about the human capacities for pleasure, pain, and connection.

Tiller is an average American college student with a good heart but minimal aspirations. Pong Lou is a larger-than-life, wildly creative Chinese American entrepreneur who sees something intriguing in Tiller beyond his bored exterior and takes him under his wing. When Pong brings him along on a boisterous trip across Asia, Tiller is catapulted from ordinary young man to talented prot g , and pulled into a series of ever more extreme and eye-opening experiences that transform his view of the world, of Pong, and of himself.

In the breathtaking, "precise, elliptical prose" that Chang-rae Lee is known for (The New York Times), the narrative alternates between Tiller's outlandish, mind-boggling year with Pong and the strange, riveting, emotionally complex domestic life that follows it, as Tiller processes what happened to him abroad and what it means for his future. Rich with commentary on Western attitudes, Eastern stereotypes, capitalism, global trade, mental health, parenthood, mentorship, and more, My Year Abroad is also an exploration of the surprising effects of cultural immersion--on a young American in Asia, on a Chinese man in America, and on an unlikely couple hiding out in the suburbs. Tinged at once with humor and darkness, electric with its accumulating surprises and suspense, My Year Abroad is a novel that only Chang-rae Lee could have written, and one that will be read and discussed for years to come.

 

Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594634574
  • ISBN-10: 1594634572
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • Publish Date: February 2021
  • Page Count: 496
  • Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.56 pounds


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BookPage Reviews

This vibrant picaresque novel leaps over generational divides to share lessons learned

“I’m certainly not known as a humorist,” Korean American author Chang-rae Lee says of the origins of his multilayered, wildly comic coming-of-age novel, My Year Abroad. “But my wife thinks I’m quite funny, even if I haven’t been in my books. Every book of mine is a response to the last one. I just get so dead and bored and want to break out. This time I wanted to laugh, and I wanted Tiller to show his personality, so I thought, OK, I’ll just go with it.”

Tiller is the novel’s one-of-a-kind narrator, a 20-something college student who’s more unformed than his years. His mother left the family when he was little, and he has, as Lee says, “mommy issues.” And though Tiller’s father is “a good guy,” Tiller thinks of himself as an orphan.

Lonely and disaffected, Tiller plans to spend a year studying abroad in Italy, but the summer before his trip, while working as a fill-in golf caddy in a New Jersey suburb near his home, he meets Pong Lou, an entrepreneurial Chinese immigrant, an energetic deal-maker and a force of nature. Pong takes Tiller not to Europe but to Asia on the trip of his life.

Pong, Lee says, was the original protagonist of the story. His character is based on an acquaintance Lee made during his years spent living and teaching at Princeton University. “This guy embodied a certain energy we older immigrants have lost,” Lee says. “I was fascinated by him. I was so taken with his courage for doing deals and his curiosity about everything high, low and in between. He had this hunger for life. I was really into a character who is in command of such things.”

“I wanted to throw everything at him . . . to make the book less realistic and more wild.”

But while Lee was in the early stages of writing the novel, he debated how to tell the tale, and he eventually realized that another, younger perspective was needed. My Year Abroad interweaves Tiller’s crazy adventures in Asia with his life a year later, as he struggles to take responsibility for both himself and the lives of his troubled partner, Val, and her 8-year-old son, whom Tiller has come to love.

Lee says this novel, his sixth, took longer to write than his previous books, partly because in 2016 he left Princeton to take a position in Stanford University’s writing program. Lee now lives in San Francisco with his wife, a retired architect and talented ceramicist. During this COVID-19 moment, Lee’s daughters are also at home, one studying in her second year of college and the other working remotely for her job in Austin, Texas. “I feel there’s more balance in my life here,” he says. “I grew up in an Asian American family on the East Coast. I have a whole network of friends there. But the West Coast is definitely more Asian American-inflected. Personally, culturally, artistically, there’s a draw here that’s different than on the East Coast. There’s a whole new added layer here that I enjoy.”


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of My Year Abroad.


The move to America’s left coast does seem to have had a liberating effect. Part of Tiller’s worldly education involves over-the-top, taboo-bursting sex. The sex is more implied than graphic, but it’s enough of a departure from earlier novels that Lee’s wife, his first reader, said to him, “ ‘Um, is this what you’re into?’ She thought maybe I had a secret life,” Lee says, laughing. “Tiller is a person who doesn’t know what he likes and dislikes. I wanted to throw everything at him and of course, for comic effect, to make the book less realistic and more wild and surreal. The whole thing is about extremes. Extremity in service of trying to figure out how you are alive.”

Lee says his daughters have not yet read the book, but he credits them and his young writing students with helping him figure out Tiller’s thoughtful, comic, youthful voice. “The slang, the tonality—I hear that all the time. I’ve traveled extensively through Asia. I’ve been to Shenzhen, Macao, Hong Kong, Hawaii, the places [I write about]. Either through nature or practice or both, I’ve always been a good observer and listener.”

Observation and learning form the beating heart of the novel, which is dedicated to the author’s own teachers. “So much of the book, the relationship between Tiller and Pong, is about mentorship,” Lee says. “I think back to particular librarians when I was in elementary and middle school. My parents were immigrants, and my mother didn’t really speak English. Basically, I was raised in the library. Those librarians and a few teachers in high school and college and even graduate school gave me not just knowledge but also encouragement and, sometimes, a reality check.”

 

Author photo by Michelle Branca Lee

 

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